When, in 2004, musician-composer John Zorn approached Dan Kaufman to write something for his Tzadik label, the two quickly discovered their shared admiration for the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. Three years later comes Force of Light, Kaufman’s eight-song homage to the poet.
Celan’s quiet, sometimes bleak poetry has been set to music before, but never like this; the pieces on Force of Light are played by Kaufman’s band, Barbez, which features the usual rock instruments along with lap steel guitar, clarinet, vibes, marimba, and theremin. On some tracks, poems (or poem fragments) are read by Scottish poet Fiona Templeton, but the compositions, which are mostly instrumental, stray far from any line-by-line interpretation.
Kaufman talks to Nextbook about Celan’s work and his take on it, and introduces a few of his favorite tracks.